Sunday, November 11, 2018

Western Front (part 4)

Our last visit to the Western Front was to Bellenglise. The nearby towns of St Quention and Bullecourt are well-known but the 4th Australian Division memorial is at Bellenglise because that was the point reached by the division before it withdrew for rest just before peace was declared.

We couldn't find the memorial and finally asked a local who hopped into his little van and led us down a rough track to the site. We would never have driven down the track! And there was only one small sign tucked away on a side street. It's not even marked on Google maps.
4th Australian Division memorial, Bellenglise 
4th Australian Division memorial, Bellenglise 
4th Australian Division memorial, Bellenglise 
We were particularly interested in the Bellenglise battle site because Phil's grandfather, Roy Phelan, was badly injured there late in 1918 (he was hit on his head with shrapnel but recovered fully despite losing a large piece of his skull). I've read his unit's diary and as far as I can work out Roy was near the present village of Pontruet at the time.
Swede harvest in fields at Pontruet near Bellenglise. 

Western Front (Part 3)

We travelled further south to the Somme valley and Villers-Brettonneux in particular.

The farmland was looking beautiful and it is difficult to believe the devastation of the war years in this area 100 years ago. The Australian National Memorial and the new Sir John Monash Centre (behind it and underground) were very impressive of course but I was particularly interested in finding a name on the memorial panels. My grandmother Dorothy Wyllie nee Taylor's brother, David Edgar Taylor' was killed in action at Pozieres 5 August 1916. His body was never identified so he is listed among the missing at Villers Brettoneux.
David Edgar Taylor, memorial panel, Villers Brettoneux
Australian National Memorial, Villers Brettoneux
The 1st Australian Division Memorial is at town of Pozieres and there is a very moving memorial at 'Windmill' just north of Pozieres.
1st Australian Division memorial, Pozieres

1st Australian Division memorial, Pozieres
Memorial at the Windmill site. The old village windmill was a significant site in the battle of Pozieres.

Dozens of small white crosses form the shape of the rising sun symbol next to the Windmill memorial at Pozieres.

Pozieres and ANZAC
We looked for, and failed to find, a military cemetery at Franvillers in the Somme valley. My grandfather Duncan Smith's cousin, James William Hillgrove was buried there in May 1918.

Western Front (Part 2)

About eight kilometres south of the Belgian border, in France, is Fromelles. In July 1916, in just one day, 5300 Australians and 1500 British men were wounded, missing or killed. This is the memorial at that site.
Australian Memorial Park, Fromelles with V C Corner Cemetery in the background.
Australian Memorial Park, Fromelles
We visited the Rue du Bois cemetery near Fleurbaix, about 3 km from Fromelles, to pay respect to Phil's great-uncle, David Ray Leed from a farm at Mologa in Victoria. He was killed in action 15 July 1916 aged 22.

Rue du Boix Cemetery, Fleurbaix

Butterfly at Rue du Boix Cemetery, Fleurbaix

Ray Leed's headstone, Rue du Boix Cemetery, Fleurbaix

Every war cemetery has a cemetery register and a visitor book, safely stored in a niche with a metal door. It's a very impressive arrangement. Phil signed the book at Rue du Boix Cemetery, Fleurbaix.

We then found 'V C Corner cemetery near Fromelles to find the name of my grandmother, Dorothy Wyllie nee Taylor's cousin, John Henry Brown from Cobden who was killed in the action on 19 Jul 1916. His body was never identified so his name is on a panel in this cemetery.

John Henry Brown, listed among the missing, on a panel at 'VC Corner' cemetery near Fromelles.

VC Corner Cemetery, Fromelles

VC Corner Cemetery, Fromelles. 
VC Corner cemetery in the background and the sign on the right says 'German Front Line 19-20 July 1916'

Western Front (Part 1)

We planned our trip to locate several important sites of the WW1 battles on the Western Front.

Phil has a great-uncle who died near Fromelles and I have a great uncle who also was killed in action but his body was never found or identified but his name is listed on a panel at the memorial at Villers Brettoneux in the Somme valley. And Phil's grandfather was severely injured at Bellenglise near Bellecourt. There are also several cousins of our grandparents who died.

First we went to Ypres (Ieper) in Belgium (the ANZACS called it 'Wipers' but it's pronounced something like 'eepra'.) There is a museum in the main square there called 'In Flanders Fields'. It's very well presented and it was sad to see the detritus of war on display.

Excellent displays

Two older Belgian or French veterans were very interested in every display.

Then it was time to walk down to the Menin Gate War Memorial to the missing in action for the ceremony that is performed every night. There were hundreds of people there and the ceremony is quite moving because the crowd is silent. Each night is slightly different and the night we were there there was a bagpipe band.

We also visited The Huts cemetery near Ypers where Phil's grandmother Annie Phelan nee Sims' cousin is buried. Joseph Hector Percy Chappel was killed in action 20 October 1917. This cemetery, like every other cemetery under the control of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, was beautifully maintained.

'The Huts' cemetery, Belgium

The farm next to 'The Huts' cemetery. Percy is a long way from his parents' farm at Pine Grove in Victoria.

Phil standing next to Percy Chappel's headstone.


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